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Individualised Japan

LauraHaapio-Kirk22 February 2018

(CC By) Laura Haapio-Kirk

Yesterday I met a woman who told me about her grandmother who lived until the age of 99 years and 11 months. She told me how she lived alone in the countryside yet was busy every day up until the end of her life. In her later years she took it upon herself to care for the mountain behind her house, focusing especially on ridding it of weeds. Her granddaughter claimed this daily (and apparently endless) work was one of the main reasons why she maintained her health up until the end. Such stories have been told repeatedly to me in the three weeks since arriving in Japan. Stories of elderly people maintaining their health by cultivating vegetables, teaching traditional arts, or indeed weeding mountains, abound.

(CC By) Laura Haapio-Kirk

From the conversations I have had, there appears to be a social expectation for an individual to maintain an active life for as long as possible and to continue to contribute to society in old age. This can also involve minimising the appearance of frailty and dependence. Another woman told me of how her grandmother, who also lives alone, makes use of a local health facility which picks her up in a minibus twice a week. However, she does not let the minibus collect her from outside her house, preferring to walk around the block so that her dependence on institutional support will not be visible to the neighbours. For this elderly woman, the fact that she lives alone and not with her family gives rise to sense of shame. She continually puts pressure on her children and grandchildren, asking when they will move closer to take care of her.

What is fascinating to me is the tension between an individual’s responsibility for self-care and the social motivations for maintaining one’s health. As Japan undergoes a shift towards a more individualised society (Allison, 2013), consequences such as loneliness and isolation are felt particularly by the elderly, especially if they are used to living in traditional multigenerational households (known as ie). However, my project focuses on the middle-aged who are caught in the middle of these tensions. They both desire the privacy and independence of living apart from parents, while wanting to fulfil their sense of filial piety. The couple with whom I am staying are both in their 60s and close to retirement. Their house is attached to that of the husband’s parents who are in their 90s and mostly independent. The elderly parents shop and cook for themselves and I have witnessed only rare interaction between the two households. The main mode of communication is an interphone system which buzzes sometimes in the evening, for example when the grandmother wants to share gifts of food she has received from the temple, or simply to let her son know that she is going to bed. While the elderly parents do not own a telephone, the interphone allows them to maintain a separation while facilitating daily communication. As monitoring and smart home technology becomes more commonplace, it will be interesting to see if this technology accelerates the trend towards an individualised society by facilitating care at a distance.

 

References

Allison, A. (2013) Precarious Japan. Duke University Press

 

Caring about Ageing in Multicultural Italy

ShireenWalton12 January 2018

Photograph Shireen Walton

Italy has a rapidly ageing population, with 28% of the population over 60 – the second highest percentage globally after Japan [1]. Changing work patterns, and external youth migration following the economic crisis, has left behind a generation of ageing parents and grandparents without traditional structures of family care. Since the 1990s, a significant presence in the care sector in Italy have been migrant carers. Often referred to in Italian as badanti (singular badante), migrant care workers constitute an important form of elderly care not provided by a family member [2]. As a consequence, a transformation has been observed from a family to a ‘migrant-in-the-family’ model of care [3]. In these circumstances, it has been suggested that migrants help Italian families to maintain valuable traditions of family care [4].

All the while, the nascent relationship between Italian elders and badanti raises some notable contradictions within Italian politics and society concerning care and migration. As the indispensability of informal migrant care becomes ever more apparent, the country continues to debate immigration policy, in the run up to a general election in March 2018.

As an anthropologist I am seeking a wide-angle view of ageing and caring in multicultural Italy. This requires a suspending of categories – of migrant, refugee, asylum seeker or badante – in order to engage with Italy’s various mobile and transnational populations who are themselves ageing – often away from their homelands. Who cares for who and how? How are everyday ailments dealt with? And what forms of communication are involved – for example, how do smartphones and Googling affect traditional health/care practices and notions of wellbeing? These are just some of the issues I will be exploring, in public and private spaces, on- and offline, in a multicultural neighbourhood of Milan where I will be living for 16 months.

– Shireen Walton

References:

[1] United Nations 2015 World Population Ageing Report

[2] Van Hooven (2010). ‘When Families Need Immigrants: The Exceptional Position of Migrant Domestic Workers and Care Assistants in Italian Immigration Policy’. Bulletin of Italian Politics. Vol. 2, Issue: 2, pp. 21-38.

[3] Bettio, F., Simonazzi, A. and Villa, P. (2006), ‘Change in Care Regimes and Female Migration: the “Care Drain” in the Mediterranean’, Journal of European Social Policy. Vol. 16, Issue 3, pp. 271-85.

[4] Rugolotto, S., Larotonda, A., van der Geest, S., (2017)., ‘How Migrants Keep Italian Families Italian: Badanti and the Private Care of Older People.’ International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care. Vol. 13 Issue: 2, pp.185-197.

What If I Choose You To Be Legally Responsible For Me?

Marilia Duque E SPereira8 January 2018

In 2002, Brazil adopted the World Health Organization guidelines for ageing societies, which protects people over 60 from violence and discrimination, addressing key issues as health, food, education, culture, sports, leisure, work and citizenship. Indeed, the Brazilian Public Health System (SUS) is accessible to everyone. But outside the state health service, the law enshrined in the National Policy for the Elderly sees elderly welfare as a responsibility of “the family, the community, the society and the state”. In other words, the family is also viewed as the primary institution legally responsible for people over 60.

For example, people over 60 are supposed to live with their families, and the state will only intervene when relatives provide evidences that they cannot afford this responsibility. The same applies to nourishment. But the National Policy for the Elderly goes even further. By law, people over 60 can sue their grown-up children to enforce this legal responsibility. If they have more than one child, they can also decide which of them will take on the onus of care. If you are selected, you can sue your brothers or sisters to try to enforce their share in this responsiblity. In most cases however, it will be a lost cause.

My grandmother and me

The National Policy for the Elderly understands that people over 60 can nominate who will become responsible for paying for this support, and it includes choosing just one of their children. If their children don’t have sufficient incomes or are deceased, grandchildren,brothers and even nephews can be nominated, too. Kinship has traditionally been a core topic within anthropology. But in this case, Brazilian law gives it a quite unique dimension – which I will explore during my ethnography of middle-age.

– Marilia Duque

Goods For All Ages

XinyuanWang27 December 2017

November was not traditionally known as a month for bustling festivals in China. That was, until a few years ago, when Alibaba – the Chinese retail giant – created a trademark ‘double 11’ online shopping day. The remarkable e-shopping festival (November 11) that resulted was adapted from an obscure ‘anti-Valentine’s’ singles’ day (guang gun jie) among young single persons in mainland China, who had picked that date because 11/11 resembled single individuals. One might hope that shopping would compensate for their lack of a partner. This year’s double 11 shopping day established a new world record with sales of $17.8bn (£14.2bn) in 24 hours.

As a digital anthropologist, my interest is in the social side of this business phenomenon. Among my WeChat friends from the previous Why We Post project, I can see charts, like the one displayed here, that rank my contacts in terms of how much money they have spent, and how many items they have purchased. People are not shy, it seems, about talking about money and their shopping practices on social media.

Older people are not immune to this. For example, 62-year-old Ms Zhang posted a photo of her new air-filter machine and wrote,

Young people are just crazy in the double 11 festival. My daughter-in-law is really ridiculous, she bought a very expensive air-filter for me even though she knew I already had two. She always spends a lot of money on me, and I always say I am old now, dont need so many new things. But she never listened.

Ms Zhang’s ‘complaint’ invited a string of complements such as “Your daughter-in-law is such a filial (xiao shun) daughter! I envy you. Just take it easy and enjoy a happy life!” or “My son did exactly the same, he just filled my flat with all kinds of new stuffs he bought in double 11. But I think we should just accept the filial piety (yi pian xiao xin) from them! After all we spent money on them the great part of our life, its time for them.

The way this shifts commercial activity into issues of intergenerational relations shows its potential value for my new project on the impact of smartphones among the middle class and middle aged of Shanghai. The study of the smartphone and related digital use is an illuminating starting point for me to understand the daily social life of an urban ageing population in China. Are there other ways in which the smartphones become pivotal in linking kinship with spending, that build on traditional anthropological studies of the gift economy? Can we use smartphones studies to build a picture of the contemporary family in Shanghai? I have sixteen months to find out.

– Xinyuan Wang